Avira Free Antivirus Review for Mac
Windows and Android are the most common targets for malware programmers, but that doesn’t mean macOS is immune. Yes, macOS has better built-in defenses and fewer users overall, but that also means that the malware attack doesn’t have as much competition. Macs are vulnerable to malware, even ransomware. You need antivirus protection on your macOS devices, although you don’t necessarily have to pay for it. Avira Free Antivirus for Mac doesn’t cost a penny, and it gets good marks in tests conducted by independent labs.
Since my last review, the macOS product has undergone a redesign that makes it very similar to the Windows version. The main window has a simple menu at the bottom left, like Avira Free Security. But when the Windows product has Status, Security, Privacy, and Performance on the left side, the macOS version adds two or three submenu items below each item. Just like in the Windows version, the rest of the window features large icons representing security, privacy, and performance, with a button to launch what Avira calls smart scanning.
Our experts tested 44 products in the antivirus category this year
Since 1982, PCMag has tested and evaluated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (Read our editorial assignment.)
What versions of macOS does Avira require?
Most Mac antivirus products need to work on recent versions of macOS. It only makes sense, given that Apple continues to add security improvements. However, Avira is the first I’ve encountered that explicitly requests macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac does not require the current or previous macOS version, which means that it implicitly requires Catalina.
If for some reason you have trouble using an outdated operating system, you may want to consider a different Mac antivirus. ClamXAV support for Mac goes back to Yosemite (10.10), Intego works back to Mavericks (10.9), and ProtectWorks can work on Mountain Lion (10.8).
There is a wide range of Mac-based antivirus support prices available. Ultimately, Intego Mac Internet Security X9 lists at $99.99 per year to protect three Macs, and Norton 360 Deluxe for Mac asks for $104.99 per year for five cross-platform licenses. Granted, these are two security suites. Norton goes beyond the features of a simple antivirus tool.
The most popular pricing plan among the products we reviewed is $39.99 per year for one license and $59.99 per year for three. You don’t have to pay anything for Avira. Like Sophos Home for Mac, it’s free.
scanning and scheduling
On the MacBook Air I’m using for testing, the quick scan finished in less than a minute, and the full scan took 26 minutes, which is slightly faster than the current average. Out of the box, Avira schedules a weekly quick check. You can schedule additional scans, quick or complete, on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Clicking on Security Options in the left bar menu brings up a very simple page with two options: Real-time Protection and USB Protection. You are can Turn off the real-time protection system, but don’t do it! USB Protection, which means automatic scanning of any installed USB drive, is only available if you upgrade to the full-featured cross-platform Avira Prime suite.
Lab results look good
When evaluating Windows antivirus tools for malware protection, I rely on a wide range of test applications that I’ve coded and re-encrypted over the years. I don’t have anything similar to macOS, as my many testing tools and my coding skills are only on Windows. For a Mac antivirus, I necessarily rely heavily on independent testing labs to see which products are the most capable.
Two independent antivirus testing labs I follow are reporting on macOS products, and both have Avira on their test list. Avast, Bitdefender, Clario, and Trend Micro also appear in the reports from both testers, but more than half of the products I track don’t even have a single lab result.
Experts at the AV-Test Institute rate antivirus tools on three criteria: how well they protect against malware, how small they impact performance, and how careful they are to avoid interfering with usability by marking valid programs as malware. With six points available for protection, performance, and usability, the maximum score is 18.
All the products I follow have a rating of 5.5 or 6 for protection; Avira is in group 5.5. It also scores 5.5 for performance. A full six usability score means there are no false positives. It’s a very good 17 point score. Only Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac scored 18 points in the last test.
AV-Comparatives certifies Avira as anti-malware, with 99.8% protection against macOS malware, down from a score of 100% in the previous test. It beats Trend Micro’s 99.6%, but all the others scored 100%.
Like Avast, Bitdefender, Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac and almost all tested products, Avira detected 100% of Windows malware used in the test. Of course, these samples cannot infect your Mac, but removing them prevents your Mac from becoming bootable.
I ran my simple test of Avira’s ability to detect Windows malware, challenging it to clean a USB drive containing samples of Windows-focused testing. It removed 30% of the samples as soon as I opened the malware folder on my thumb drive. A quick scan detected another 60%, bringing its detection total to 90%, including every ransomware sample. This is better than all other recent scores except for Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus for Mac, which captured 100% of Windows samples.
Protection against phishing and malicious websites
Phishing pages are scams that try to steal your login credentials by imitating sensitive websites. It’s easy to create a fake bank website and trick people into giving up their passwords. Not many users have any real guide on how to spot a phishing scam. Sure, creating a phishing page is much easier than coding a Trojan horse that can steal and infiltrate those passwords, all while avoiding detection by antivirus software.
In addition, malware is platform specific, while phishing works on any platform. If you’re dumb enough to log into a fake banking page on your high-tech car’s built-in browser, you’ll lose your credentials just as if you entered them into a browser on your Mac. Preventing access to such pages or pages containing malicious code can be the first line of defense for an antivirus tool, be it Mac or Windows Antivirus.
Avira Free Antivirus by itself does not protect against malicious or fraudulent URLs. It was used to direct users to Avira’s Browser Safety extension for Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Opera browsers (sorry, Mac hardcore – no Safari extension). This indicator no longer exists, but the extension is free and readily available. I installed it for Chrome and proceeded to test Avira’s browser-based protection. If you’re going to use Avira’s free antivirus for macOS, be sure to pair it with the free Browser Safety extension.
For this test, I am collecting the most recent phishing URLs I can find, including those that have not been analyzed and blacklisted. I use one of my hand-encrypted tools to run each URL and log results in three browsers, Chrome, Firefox and Edge, each of which is protected by the browser’s built-in protection. For the Mac product being tested, my Analyzer works strictly on Windows, so I’m testing manually on a Mac. I have become very adept at merging buttons in copying/pasting every URL from the list to the browser. I ran this test at the same time as my test of Avira Free Security on Windows.
For testing purposes, I’m ignoring any URL that doesn’t load properly in any of the browsers, and any URL that isn’t actively trying to capture login credentials. Analyzing confirmed phishing pages, I found Avira had a detection rate of 91%, just as it did on Windows. It makes sense that the results match because they both used the same Chrome extension.
91% of Avira puts it in the first half, score-wise. However, others scored even higher. Webroot, Bitdefender, McAfee AntiVirus Plus for Mac, and Avast topped the scores with 100%, 99%, 98%, and 97%, respectively.
Just like on Windows, Browser Safety also actively blocks ads and prevents advertisers and others from tracking you. A small digital overlay on the toolbar button lets you see how many trackers have been found on the current page. You can click for more details, but you don’t get the option to set what blocks the way you do using Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and others.
With Avira’s free Windows-based security tool, you can click Privacy in the left bar menu to view a page of privacy-related features. This includes feature-limited versions of Avira’s VPN and password manager, as well as a secure deletion file shredder and a tool to adjust privacy settings in Windows and popular apps.
In the macOS version, you can access the VPN and password manager via the submenu items in the left bar menu. Clicking the Get VPN Support button will send you to download the separate free version of Avira Phantom VPN. With the free version, you are limited to 500MB of bandwidth per month and cannot choose your VPN server location. These limitations mean that you cannot count on using a VPN regularly.
Clicking on the password manager component will send you to its home page on the Internet. You log into your Avira account and, on first use, create a master password. Make sure to install the browser extension to get the full set of features. This tool handles basic tasks like capturing the login credentials you enter, restarting them as needed, and syncing across all your devices. You can enable two-factor authentication, which works by sending a code to your smartphone. But it does not offer form filling, secure sharing, digital inheritance, or other first-class features. See our review of Avira Password Manager to learn more.
macOS’ third privacy feature, Cookie Cleaner, is only available if you upgrade to Avira Prime. This feature will be less useful on Windows, because all modern browsers on this platform support clearing cookies and other saved data by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Del. You can still access the cleaning features in browsers on macOS, but there is no public key combination. However, I wouldn’t buy Prime just to get a cookie cleaner.
Under Performance in the left rail menu, you’ll find Junk Cleaner, Uninstaller, and Startup apps. Junk Cleaner is available; The other two require an upgrade.
Similar to the optimizer in the Windows product, Junk Cleaner searches for files that you can delete to free up disk space. You can proceed directly to cleaning or pause and view the results of the application. On my Mac test, I reported finding cache files, downloads, logs, and files in the trash; By default, all but downloads are selected for deletion. Just like on a Windows product, report how much space is freed up and offer to free up more space if you just upgrade to Prime.
macOS antivirus now has a Smart Scan feature, just like the Windows version. On Windows, this scan covers privacy issues, performance issues, viruses, outdated apps, and network threats (although the free version won’t handle the results in some of these areas). The Mac version is simpler, and sticks to security, privacy, and performance.
The smart check on my Mac was done in just a few minutes. For security I reported that no viruses were found. In the area of privacy, it detected nearly 300. A performance scan, the equivalent of Junk Cleaner, found 140MB of junk files. After cleaning it reported that it only removed about 30MB of junk files and no trackers. Completing the cleanup will require an upgrade to Avira Prime, which is disappointing.
Should you get Prime?
At the bottom of the menu on the left side of the main screen is a distinct item titled “Get Prime”. Clicking on it brings up a laundry list of Avira Prime features,…